Trees have been felled to debate the Old Firm this week. After a rough game at Parkhead a week ago, Sky Sports, which was televising the game, hit the media goldmine.
Not only were there three sendings off, numerous yellow cards and a series of altercations on the pitch, the bosses, Rangers’ Ally McCoist and Celtic’s Neil Lennon, squared up to each other when they were meant to be shaking hands. This has become the defining image of the game. As many commentators observed, the television rights for the Old Firm matches just went up in price.
There are two issues. The first is whether the behaviour on the pitch and after the game has an impact outside the ground. The police reported an increase in Glasgow crime over “normal” levels on the same evening, and more domestic violence incidents were reported. To say nothing of those that weren’t. So there can’t be much doubt that the escalation of footballing incidents on the pitch meant that the police and other emergency services had to respond to more off it.
The second is what can be done. Not much of substance came out of the much-hyped government summit. A proper discussion of the issues was right. Whether it can be described as any more than that is questionable. Much was made, for example, of the senior police officer at the game going to the teams’ changing rooms before the start and basically saying “behave”. But, as former Rangers skipper Richard Gough observed, that was happening when he played 20 years ago.
Television income matters to football, especially to the Old Firm. So I suspect that the only sanction which would be listened to is one that would allow the football authorities to ban television coverage or only allow highlights or the full game to be shown after the actual game has finished. No live coverage would mean less money. There was no action on this at the “summit”.
Football is a contact sport. It’s a hard game. But Barcelona played fantastically in beating Arsenal in Spain this week without a fight. It was the beautiful game.
Kenny Dalglish and Alex Ferguson, two incredibly competitive Scots, shook hands at Anfield after a tough Manchester United v Liverpool game last weekend.
Managers have to accept their responsibilities to their clubs, and to the fans and everyone who might get caught up in the aftermath. Here’s hoping Messrs Lennon and McCoist have got it. After all there are still more Old Firm games to come this year and just think of the media hype before the next one.
Tavish Scott MSP